I Replicated 2,300 Year Old Fabric: The Gerum Cloak

This project started with some wool…most of my projects start that way.

But this project finished somewhere spectacular. It finished with the creation of woven cloth that replicates the pattern and structure of the Historic Gerum Cloak, which is housed at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

I’ll get to weaving, but let’s talk about the Gerum cloak first because it has an interesting history. In fact, it’s the cloak in a cloak and dagger mystery.

Gerumsmanteln. Inventarienummer 16719. Photographer: Gabriel Hildebrand/SHM

The mystery of the Gerum Cloak

The Gerum Cloak was discovered in the 1920s on Gerum mountain in the county of Västergötland, Sweden. It was found in a peat bog. It had been folded up and 3 stones were placed on it presumably by whomever left it in the bog.

They also discovered there were several of gashes in the cloak, speculated to be caused by a bronze dagger.

Detail of the Gerumsmanteln where one of the puncture holes is visible. Photographer: Gabriel Hildebrand / SHM

Years later, the Swedish National Laboratory of Forensic science analyzed it and agreed the cloak has five cuts made by a knife or dagger. If the cloak was worn, the stabs would have struck the body in the chest, abdomen, spine, and neck. The person who wore this cloak was possibly murdered with a dagger!

But where is the body? And why was the cloak neatly folded with 3 stones on top? Some mysteries may never be solved.

The cloak is a priceless piece of textile history. Preserving and studying these artifacts are so important. You can learn more about the textile here and here, and see it laid out on video here!

But now, let’s get into the details of how I recreated this historic textile. You can read more about the project below, or watch the video on YouTube. Let’s get spinning!

Recreating the Gerum Cloak yarn

I spun a blend of Gotland, Merino, and silk fibers on my Ashford traditional spinning wheel. I used a long draw method to spin this yarn. You can find the fibers I used for this project here. Admittedly, this particular blend is not exactly historically accurate, so will call it historically approximate. However, it was very nice to spin!

Gotland/silk blend in grey and white handspun into two skeins of 2-ply yarn. Photographer: JillianEve

The Gerum cloak looks very brown now because it lived in a bog for 2000 years, but the original colors were brown and white. I used grey and white wool, but the grey I used is a natural wool color that could realistically have been used by people who created cloth like the Gerum cloak.  

Bronze Age cloth was made with much thicker threads than we are used to with modern cloth. I spun the singles before I knew what project they would end up in, so they were too thin. I needed to ply them together. By happy accident, my two-ply yarn matched the diameter of the threads used in the Gerum cloak. The Gerum cloak was woven with singles both in the warp and the weft. I’m not quite brave enough to weave with singles yarn yet.

Recreating the Houndstooth pattern

The Gerum cloak is a houndstooth pattern. Houndstooth is named for its tessellating shape. It is like a checkered pattern but with…teeth. It has been a popular pattern at various times and places, and is still worn today.

A houndstooth is created by alternating four threads of two different colors. That means that the threads are doubled in each eye and each slot of the reed.

Close up view of houndstooth weaving on a rigid heddle loom. Photograph: JillianEve

To weave a 2/2 twill, you have the weft going over 2 threads, under 2 threads. On the way back across the warp, the pattern shifts over a thread each time so you get the texture of diagonal lines moving over the surface of the fabric.

The challenge with a rigid heddle loom is that the reed only provides 2 sheds for the weft to pass through. We need an additional 2 sheds to create a 2/2 twill. We can manipulate the threads that are in the slots to create the other part of the pattern, but the threads in the eye are stuck in place unless we move them with the reed or use a pickup stick. Pulling those threads up from behind the reed won’t cause them to lift on the weaving side.

When the reed is your beater, you need all the space between your cloth and the reed open so the heddle can slide back and forth.

But then a thought occurred to me: The heddle doesn’t have to be the beater!

I added two string heddles in front of the rigid heddle and used a comb pick as my beater.

Then I could weave a 2/2 twill houndstooth pattern with my rigid heddle loom. For those of you who have been following me, you might be asking, “what about Bertha?” Yes, my 4 shaft, 6 treadle mid-century floor loom was made for twill, but Mark was weaving rag rugs with Bertha at the time.

Loom Setup:

Across the warp I set up 2 threads in each eye and two threads in each slot totaling four threads of the same color, alternating across.

Using G for grey and W for white with () indicating the threads held up by the heddles, the rigid heddle was set up this way: (GG)GG(WW)WW(GG)GG(WW)WW

The string heddles (SH) were set up this way:

SH1: Two threads, one of each color adjacent to each other in the warp, repeated across. G)GG(GW)WW(WG)GG(GW)WW(W

SH2: Two threads of the same color, not adjacent to the alternate color, repeated across. G(GG)GW(WW)WG(GG)GW(WW)W

The pattern I used to create the 2/2 twill was Rigid Heddle UP, String Heddle 2, Rigid Heddle Down, String Heddle 1, repeat.

About halfway through weaving the scarf, I decided to try a simpler pattern: puppytooth. How adorable!

Puppytooth is the pattern most rigid heddle weavers are familiar with. It looks like someone took the houndstooth and pixilated it. It uses 2 threads of each color instead of 4 and is woven with a plain over-under weave instead of a twill. If string heddle seems messy to you, try the puppytooth, especially if you have a rigid heddle loom. [LC4] 

Two threads of each color alternate across the warp. To weave it, you will throw two shots of each color in the weft. You can do this with a plain weave which is just over-under, over-under.

Evaluating the final product 

The Gerum cloak fabric has about 7 1/2 threads per centimeter.

And guess what??? So does mine!

I took a picture of my handspun handwoven cloth next to a ruler and overlaid it with the actual Gerum cloak at the same scale to see how well my houndstooth pattern lines up. It is amazingly close! Photograph: JillianEve

The cloth from this project is really, really lovely. It has a nice drape to it. It isn’t terribly soft, but it isn’t too itchy either. I think it looks classic and timeless.

I would like to do more houndstooth weaving in the future. Maybe I will once I have Bertha back to myself. She has a 50″ weaving width so perhaps we will do another houndstooth fabric and I’ll make myself a wool jacket…or maybe a cloak. We’ll call it… #bogcore.

Evie showing off her houndstooth #bogcore scarf. Photograph: JillianEve

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